we’ll fix it together

When I was about 17, I was arguing with my brother, Aaron, who would have been 15. We are both admittedly quite stubborn. My memory doesn’t serve me well on why we were arguing so fiercely. (Isn’t that the way it usually goes?) But I do remember that he was wrong!  Yet, he wouldn’t relent, and he wouldn’t listen either. As I began to explain how thoroughly wrong he was, he covered his ears with both hands and shouted in my face, “LA LA LA LA LA!”

So, I hit him.

I regretted it immediately, but I punched him straight in the face.

Bracing for the fight I assumed was coming, I was shocked to see him recover and stop short. He glared for a moment in anger, swallowed hard, and then his harsh countenance faded to pain. I was stunned to see it just as he turned, leaving me in the living room alone.  Instead of hitting me back, he punched a massive hole in our parents’ wall on his way out.

I felt tiny.

The truth was that I wanted him to hit me back. If he had only hit me back, I’d have felt justified somehow – we’d be “even”. But by absorbing it, and turning the cheek (literally), he delivered the most devastating blow.

Trying to recover from the haymaker he dealt my pride, pondering how to make things right with him, I stared there at the gaping hole. The only thing left in the room with me, it swallowed me. The punch I dealt him was visible somehow, looming there in my face. The only way to heal us was to repair it together, so I prepped the materials, found him outside and slowly handed him a joint knife.

“We’ll fix it together,” I invited him, apologetic and remorseful. He accepted the tool from my hand and nodded, tears in both our eyes. You see, it might not have been my fault there was a hole in the wall, but it was just as much my responsibility.

What are the holes in our world, the wounds we’ve inflicted, the blows dealt long ago and forgotten, yet still they remain?

When we face the major fractures of our world (the phobias and ‘isms), we face massive damage beyond our comprehension to repair. Ruins remain, literally and figuratively. And this inescapable complexity of our history is often answered with the cliche that everything is in God’s control. Some will even insist that God is behind these chaotic events, a puppet master pulling the strings of history, lifting up and tearing down at whim. You’ve maybe heard microcosms of this idea:

Your child died, because God wanted them in heaven.

A tsunami wrecks an entire coastline, because God was angry.

Your wife dies young with cancer, and God has a reason for it.

Follow it out – are you against abortion? God has a purpose for it. Murder? God is up to something there. Sex slavery? Abusive dictatorships? Terrorism? Rape? Torture?  If God has a purpose for these, the logic here would say that working against them is, in effect, working against God.

But, the truth is: God is not “in control” – He’s sovereign. There’s a difference.

God is not controlling – He’s reigning. There’s a difference.

And God is light, and there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:15), which means He’s not in collusion with the darkness in our world.

If everything evil that happens was ‘supposed’ to happen, then we should never work against anything, ever. But I bet you do. I bet you raise money or toil tirelessly to repair the brokenness in your world.

The phrase “God is in control” is altogether too convenient of a cliche for simply throwing up our hands whenever it suits us, without losing sleep over it.  As Dr. Chris Green says, “There is a false understanding of our faith that says ‘God has done everything that needs to be done, and I just trust it.’ As if the goal is to become as irresponsible as possible.”(emphasis added)

So, when I watched little Omran Daqneesh, the Syrian boy pulled from the rubble of his home, in the back of an ambulance, I couldn’t turn my eyes from him, his bewilderment as he touched his forehead, his realization that he was bleeding, his attempt to wipe it away without being noticed.  I lost myself weeping in my kitchen, staring at my laptop screen as I wondered if this little boy still had any parents to hold him. “Bring him to me, I’ll be his father,” I mumbled in prayer.

But I couldn’t simply mutter some vague prayer, and go on with my day as usual. No, God isn’t “in control,” He’s waiting for us to be responsible! He’s waiting for us to say to Cain, who murdered his brother, Abel: “Yes, we are, in fact, our brother’s keeper!”
There are inspiring human beings keeping their neighbors, who dare to respond to the crises in our world with more than policies and cliches. As the Apostle Paul says, we have been given the responsibility and ministry of this reconciliation and healing. And while God is not in control, He is inviting us: “We’ll fix it together.

Maybe you are working to end sex trafficking and systemic oppression against women. We’ll fix it together.
Maybe you’re living in an inner-city, mentoring at-risk youth.
We’ll fix it together.
Maybe you’re working at a homeless shelter, serving the forgotten lives of men and women on our streets.
We’ll fix it together.
Maybe you’re intentionally inviting Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. around your dinner table.
We’ll fix it together.
So, I’m leaving in a week.
I’ll go to the Syrian border, not because of a special calling to do so, but because this is the call of God to all human beings, to join Him in His mission to fix it. Human beings, all of us, beautifully made and empowered by the Spirit of God, are invited to do the hard work of repairing what is broken as Christ lives His life with us.
No, it’s not all my fault, and it’s not all yours.
But it doesn’t have to be our fault to be our responsibility.
We’ll fix it together.
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Lily

The worst is how life
insists
persists
how you wish it’d resist,
so you’d have something
someone, somehow
to fight

but another day comes
and another day goes
and the whole world spins
while no one knows that yours stopped
back there, somewhere

“You’ll be alright”
as if she wasn’t summer coming through your window,
sunlight resting on your shoulder
still yet the moon while you’d hold her
as if you wanted a night without her,
to ever be “alright” without her
when your grief
is all you have left about her
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
but what if you’re no longer …. you
so who
and for God’s sake.. why?
%@&# – WHY?!

And
what now?

eat,
sleep,
clean, wait, cry,
weep, throw up, try,
breathe, hold on, toss, turn,
walk, run, hurt, hope, heal, learn
still remember
everyday remember

Remember her smile, how you could fit the sun inside it;
how you let your world revolve behind it
gravity defied it, collided
and how you never wanted anything in return anyway;
anything to return to the way
it was before she came;
that it was all a gift –
a song, given away
and then,
perhaps
– sing.

Undertow

Before I left Chicago, I preached my last sermon titled, “Don’t Drown.”  It was a painful and prophetic unveiling of all that I knew was coming my way: A storm that would inevitably wreck me, and send me where I did not want to go.

Last thing I remember, a good friend, Josiah, as if holding me afloat for one last breath, looked intently at me and said, “Suck it up. Be present” and then I slipped into the undertow. Yet quite unlike Peter, I would not be pulled from the eddy.

Beneath that deep, dark abyss, depression swallowed me alive. Listless and weary, I managed to blink while thoughts of suicide swam through my skull. No amount of white-knuckle, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mantra was getting air into my lungs, and how I so desperately needed air. My heart was a forgotten anchor at the bottom of the ocean. My thoughts were tangled ropes, strangling me on the floor, and the miles of sea surrounding me, engulfing me, never let up pressure. All I could do was hold my breath, or drown in the despair.

It’s been over a year since, and then today happened.

Today, someone I deeply respect paid me a surprising and sincere compliment about the piercing mark of the Spirit on my life and in my eyes. He hesitantly asked a question, though, that caused me pause:  “What has been the most significant part of your formation?”

Hot tears hid behind my eyes. “Pain,” I stared past him, “Rejection.” His eyes never left mine.

At the end of the day, it’s still a crucified Christ that I follow. However you spin it, living an accepted, comfortable, guarded life doesn’t make sense for Christians who are called to take up a cross. It would make sense if one followed another King – say, for instance, Caesar. How any Christian imagines living a painless life while claiming a crucified Messiah is beyond me. What I know now is this: the Son of God bears the wounds He bears because He became vulnerably human, and any attempt on my behalf to avoid wounded-ness has always and inevitably made me less human, and thus less like Jesus.

Not that pain and rejection are the goal; but a heart lived uncaged, vulnerable to wounding, thundering loudly for the healing of another – that is the goal! And I’m convinced I must find the courage, just as Jesus shows for Thomas, to show up and allow another to place their hand in my side, touch beneath the shallows, even scar me.

Those who have dared to do so know something of me that no one else does. They’ve also hurt me in ways no one else ever will. But know this, friend: I would never write my story another way. I am who I am because of the pain of deep love and loss. I am who I am today, because of the liquid sunlight I watched dance over my head day after day, and the silent cold current that carried my  soul for over a year.

Somehow I learned to breathe, to pray, to swim deeply in God. Beneath the waves, He held me. There, I unwittingly learned that He is the current, the storm, the ocean – all of it. And when He has swept me along to His quiet depths, I will alas, be where I am to be. But more importantly, I will be who I am to be. This false part of me will have died, and a truer me will come up for air.

This undertow will be my baptism.

(t)here

“..lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When I was kid, I stored up my money in a small chest in my room. One day, while my family was at church, some selfish jerk broke in and stole it all. I was despondent and angry when I came home. It was a lot of money, and I had saved so diligently and tucked it all so carefully away. That unfortunately taught me fear at very young age, and the subsequent habit of checking on my treasures to be sure they’re still with me.

Jesus’ words here point us toward this idea, but how do we hold them rightly? How do we understand these words, not as we mean them to be, but as He means them. Much of this passage has a long history of misinterpretation. When, for some, Heaven means the end of the world, storing up one’s treasure there means essentially forsaking the stark realities of our little planet. “Care little about anything going on here, because getting souls to Heaven is what’s important.” But is this what He means?  I love what NT Wright says, “Heaven is a big deal, but it’s not the end of the world.”

Jesus didn’t believe in a spiritual plane far, far away that God lived in. That’s Gnostic stuff. Believing in an ethereal, distant heaven; a paradise in the clouds is not Christian belief. Jews have historically rejected such an idea, and so had Christians (up until the last 150 years or so, unfortunately.) Christian hope is Heaven that is the resurrection of the body; Heaven that is redemption of the good world around you and me, and that is Good News. Heaven is redemption of the whole thing.

Resurrection affirms that glorious feeling of sun on skin, the salty kiss of your beloved on your shoulder, grass in your toes, your thundering heartbeat when the one you adore is adoring you from across a crowded room.

Resurrection says parties, birthdays, baking bread, making-love to your beloved, whispers in the dark, wine, music, dancing, the oceans and the mountains, the deepest of laughs you have shared, the greatest joys you’ve ever lived, and the most painful aching of your heart   ..matter.

Resurrection means it all matters, so it matters what we do with it all!  

If little ones, weak ones, the displaced, the refugee, the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed; if they suffer – it matters.

For too many years of my life, I was taught to enjoy life, and wait for it to all get swept away. So then, how was I to store treasures in Heaven?  Pray. Talk to people about Jesus. Care about my personal trip to Heaven. Take culturally moral positions on stuff.  Meanwhile, enjoy your steak.

Steak is delicious. Fast cars are fun. Big homes, swimming pools and designer clothing are wonderful things, but all of these must be held in light of a dark reality where orphans go unloved and need homes, countless people simply need clean water, sex slaves need us to end the despicable injustice they’re facing everyday, refugees need safety and the hope for a new life. We live in the bleak historical aftermath of centuries of slavery and the effective ripples of whiteness that continue to haunt people of color. Or where police officers keeping the peace are gunned down by U.S. military veterans in the streets of Dallas.

Christians believe in life. Not just as a political slogan; Christians believe in this life! Not  life after death – but the Life after life-after-death. Heaven is not less than going to be with God, but it is so much more!  It’s resurrection! It’s the pervasive God-reality birthing out from this one, breaking into it through the lifting of the poor, the feeding of the hungry, the giving of clean water to the thirsty; it is forgiveness of our sins against one another, the opening of our blind eyes to the love of God, the tearful reconciliation of enemies, the healing of all Creation.

It is Good. Creation is beautiful.  And you and I are beautiful in it.
Heaven isn’t a distant place – it’s a different space. It’s the presence of God coming here, and that’s what Jesus means when He tells us to store our treasures (t)here.

And you’ve seen that Heaven here.

You’ve seen it in the feeding of homeless. Store it (t)here.
You’ve glimpsed it in the eyes of your sweetheart. Store it (t)here.
You’ve heard it in the giggle of children at Christmas. Store it (t)here.
You’ve felt it in the forgiving of mass-shooters by their victims’ families. Store it (t)here.
Or in the stories of recovering addicts. Store it (t)here.
You’ve witnessed it in the rescue of animals from our oil spills, the wise stewarding of land and sea, the very dew upon vegetables growing in your garden. Store it (t)here.
You’ve felt it in the interlocked fingers of your sweet friend, bowing their head beside you in prayer. Store it (t)here.

There will be Heaven here.

Store it (t)here.

 

to the girl across the street,

I miss you.

I saw you on the internet the other day, but I barely recognized you. Do you remember me?

My mother introduced us to each other when I was just a small boy. She hoped I would know you all my life, to grow up with you, that we’d even dance together one day.

Back then, I noticed something about you that was so darling.  You listened so attentively to others and their stories. You had all the time in the world for people that nobody had time for. People like Ms. Shumacher.

I still can see her with her long, dark hair and giant bifocals that made her eyes look bugged out and massive to me.  She would stand and clap and raise her hands every week in one of only a few dresses she owned and wore on repeat. But you listened so attentively to her on Wednesdays when she would testify. It didn’t matter how long it took her to share, you listened. Though it was some time ago, I can still remember my boyish impatience, but I watched your eyes, and you weren’t in any hurry. You listened like her story was sacred and precious. Like all time was sacred and precious.

You would set the pace without insisting.

And so I learned to see beauty in Ms. Schumacher instead of buggy eyes. I learned to hug her, even if her dress smelled a little dirty, because it’s what I saw you do.

I miss you.

You would listen to my dad sing and play guitar. He loved the Spirit of Jesus He met out in the desert one night, and trusted He could find Him again wherever you were. And you enjoyed him. I mean, I had grown up to the sound of him strumming away in the other room, singing his melancholy tune, but I didn’t know you would love it too.  He wasn’t the world’s best singer or guitar player, but he meant every word he sang. He felt every strum in his chest. And you listened.

I miss you.

Your house was right across the street from mine, and I could come over anytime of the week. And when I did, I always found you up to something kind for a neighbor; something generous; something for somebody somewhere. You were different than the noisy harshness of my schoolroom setting, or some places in my neighborhood, where I was scared to go down the streets on my bike.

But you would go down those streets and your courage taught me not to fear. Some people would have difficult stories to hear, and I didn’t understand them all, but you stood on their porch and just listened. You prayed and listened.

I miss you.

Not because I don’t come over to your house anymore –  I still do.

Not because you’re not home when I come – you still are.

But because you’re different than I remember you.

You’re… cool now.

Too cool for Ms. Schumacher.

Ms. Schumacher can’t get what she has to say down to your thirty-second video. And I guess she’s older now too, so maybe she doesn’t represent your “target audience”? Whatever that means.

You’re busy. You’ve got producing to do.

You hire professional musicians to play at your parties now, and my dad …I get it: he’s great to me!  But I’m still that little boy with a heart full of wonder about his melancholy melody. And you? Well, you have auditions to hold.

You’re louder than I remember, too.  You’ve really only got time for what you want to say now, the positions you stand for, vote on and protest.

Meanwhile, the streets behind my house have gotten scarier it seems, and maybe you don’t want to bother people on their porches anymore. Maybe you sense they don’t like it. But maybe they don’t like it, because they don’t really get to talk?

I know you’ve got a website, and they can find you and come out at their own convenience. You made it easier for them to hear what you had to say this week… heck, they can even download it and share it with their friends. That was kind of you.

You quit smiling at our quirkiness, and letting people be a little weird.  It doesn’t fit your image. You used to hang pictures of real family members on your walls. You traded them for stock photos, actors in staged Bible studies. You didn’t used to count everything so much.  You didn’t use to design logos and bumper sticker slogans so much.  You didn’t own the newest TV’s to display your vision, you simply embodied it.  It’s crazy how all the lights and cameras are on, but I can’t see you as well as I used to for some reason.

When you’re finished being cool; when you’re finished convincing people your positions are right; when you’re finished producing motion graphics, professional rock bands and social media campaigns, will us uncool misfits, melancholy dreamers and scary backstreet neighbors still belong?

She can clap on beat, but will Ms. Shumacher’s glasses and worn out dresses fit the look you’re going for in your new music video? It’s one of the loveliest sounds I can remember, but will my dad’s folky guitar fit your genre..? My neighbors are wonderful people but they don’t even have internet to watch your latest “outreach” video…

Are you caught up in your wedding plans? Too busy getting the perfect building, the perfect colors, the perfect music …did you forget why your groom calls you lovely? Have you forgotten how He flirts with you through the most unlikely of messengers? How he leaves you wild flowers that spring up in a day, and gone the next? How He only writes His best poems for you in the mud on rainy days?

Are you listening?

a silent saturday

It’s a silent Saturday.

Sh, quiet yourself for awhile in the sunlight, and you will hear it.

It’s the silence of love. The truest of loves; a love story, unlike ones we often enjoy.

The love stories we like to live and tell are of our desires fulfilled, needs met and obtaining our beloved. But that is not the story of Jesus on Saturday.

Before his death, he was abandoned and betrayed by even his closest of friends, everyone he loved so deeply. He was lied about and forgotten, standing silently alone at his end. This is the love we witness in the body of  Jesus, as He lie in the depths of the tomb, rejected by the whole world, sealed away by a frozen hush.

This love story is not a story of fulfillment, but of unfulfillment. A story of loss and unrequited love that led Jesus to follow the way of cost.  This love leads Him to the loss of Himself, the giving up of any desire for acceptance or embracing of Himself.

This kind of love doesn’t necessarily meet our needs or desires. This love story is tragic, and yet more beautiful than others, because it does not seek its own. It is patient and kind, forgetting  wrongdoings. It is whispered, not shouted. It is even silent, only seen by and within the eyes of beloved ones. It is costly and always painful.

But this love never gives up; no, this love.   never.   gives.   up.

True love is hopeful, beyond the present mourning. The loss of your beloved is not forever. Even as you sit quietly by a window and look out into the world and wonder, this love is there in that silence. It is present and secretly working.

This love wins in the end. It does not lie in the grave forever. On the third day, Jesus who is dejected by the world is accepted by God. Jesus, who is abandoned by all, is embraced by God.

Jesus, who goes to His death unloved is raised up by the great love of God.

When you sit quietly there, beloved, in the light of Saturday morning, feeling as if your own love seems to be achieving nothing … you are actually there with Jesus in the tomb. And God’s true love is at work in the silence.

Sh, can you feel it?

When you are living with a love in your heart that costs you deeply; when your deepest desires go unmet and unfulfilled; when your love seems to be accomplishing nothing; when your love is even tragically quiet and waiting, you are experiencing the love that leads to Easter.

This love may lead us into graves, but God’s great work is leading us through Saturday into Sunday.

And so we wait.

a big fish and the end of the world

The end of the world.

That’s a pretty loaded idea.  It haunts and shapes the American imagination about God more than just about any other question of our existence. It’s why Jack van Impe, Timothy LaHaye and John Hagee sell a lot of books and movies. We are unquestionably captivated by the imagery of the book of Revelation, a story of mythic dragons, trumpets and fire.

It seems to be a pretty grim tale for the big beautiful world and its colorful array of people, doesn’t it? In fact, some Christians, in an earnest eagerness for the coming of God’s Kingdom, secretly (or not so secretly) get gleeful about devastating wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, famine, etc. Many will passionately preach the coming destruction of the world as inevitable or even God’s will.

Now, for other Christians (largely outside of the United States) the book of Revelation is a powerful, prophetic critique of the beastly empire of Rome, and worldly empires before and ever since, whose violent and monstrous power are defeated by a little Lamb and His peaceable Kingdom.

But for those of us who read it as a violent, God-sanctioned nuking of the great big planet earth, even if that reading is accurate, let’s consider another story in Scripture where a prophetic tale of impending apocalypse is delivered. I’m talking about the story of Jonah.

A whale of a tale, isn’t it?

Jonah ends up being one of the most successful prophets of them all, and he isn’t even trying! It’s comedic.

Jonah doesn’t even want to obey God; he evades him by traveling to the edge of the world, as they know it; inspires a bunch of idolatrous pagans on a boat to pray to Yahweh; as an act of salvation even in his disobedience, God carries him in the belly of a giant fish to be spewed out on the shores of Nineveh; and it’s there that he delivers the worst sermon in the history of all sermons:

..he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” (Jonah 3:4)

Riveting stuff, right? You can tell Jonah worked hard on that one. Nevermind that the last guy I saw shouting at crowds on a street corner about the end of the world wasn’t what we might call “successful”. But what does the most violent civilization of the known world at that time end up doing? Well, a kingly decree goes out:

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God;” (Jonah 3:7-8)

Yep, the brutish, conquering society suddenly takes up fasting and repentance…

Hosea is throwing over tables right about now.

But, this isn’t the best part. The end of the story is where the really juicy stuff happens. This is where we see that the story isn’t really about the destruction of Nineveh – it’s about Jonah.

And, oh, is he angry with God. You see, God is exactly what Jonah had deep down known He’d always be. Loving. Merciful. He even accuses God of it:

“for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” (Jonah 4:2)

No matter how feverish Jonah gets about the destruction of the cruel people of Nineveh, Jonah somehow knows that God won’t follow through with it. And this is where the wisdom of this story pierces us.

Our job is not to be the I-told-you-so at the end of world history. It’s to intercede for the sake of its future.

We aren’t to get giddy when we think we hear God saying “I’m gonna nuke the sucker,” we’re to plead desperately with Him not to, as Abraham did for Sodom.

It isn’t Armageddon we’re drawing up the blueprints for, it’s the New Jerusalem!  We may only see the final brick laid when the King returns, but we  move towards it anyway.

The problem in this story is not that Nineveh needs to be destroyed. The problem is Jonah wants God to do it.

The problem for us isn’t mapping out the symbols of Revelation, charting blood moons and deciphering when God is going to destroy the planet and its precious people.

The problem is ..some Christians want Him to.